14. September 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, 344 pages, read by Courtney, on 09/09/2012

There are few, if any, teen books written that focus on the plight of those from the Baltic region during World War II. Thus, this book felt like completely new territory to me. While I’m familiar with the Gulag system used by the Soviets, it had never occurred to me that entire families might have been put to work in them. As it turns out, thousands of men, women and children were taken from their homes and places of work in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. These people were deemed criminals and were packed into trains to be shipped off to the wintery lands of Siberia. This book tells of one family’s plight. Taken from their home in Lithuania, a mother and her two children are put on a train and sent east. They travel an astonishing distance only to be put to work in beet fields. They fall ill, they freeze, they go hungry. And then they’re sent to the Artic Circle and forced to build shelter not only for themselves but for the guards as well. No matter how bad it gets, the family never falters in their faith that one day, they will be able to return home, be reunited with their husband and father (who is sent to a different series of camps/prisons). Their love for each other, their culture and their homeland are something that the Soviets could never break them of.
The author’s note at the end indicates that people were not able to return to their homelands until after Stalin’s death. Even then, they were still considered criminals and their story was a strictly enforced secret. It was only after the end of the Soviet Union that countries like Lithuania recovered their independence and their people were able to begin healing. This story represents all those whose stories will never be heard. It also stands as a testament to the power of love and hope. I would absolutely like to see this book make the final list of Gateway Award nominees. It is a well-written, deeply moving and important historical perspective.

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